After picking up a pair of wins on the road to finish off the regular season, the Women of Troy earned the No. 5 seed for the Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle and will open up against 12th-seeded Arizona today.
The winner of today’s first-round game will move on to play against fourth-seeded Arizona State in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Should USC continue its road to the conference championship with a win against the Sun Devils, the team will be forced to take on the Pac-12’s best regular season team in No. 4 Stanford — assuming the Cardinal defeat the winner of Colorado and UCLA’s first-round matchup.
That semifinal game would take place on Saturday, with the championship game following on Sunday night.
A lot is on the line for the Women of Troy, as they will likely be playing for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Their performance in the Pac-12 Tournament will gauge whether or not they will earn a shot to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2006.
“I think it is definitely very possible to win the Pac-12 Tournament,” said senior forward Cassie Harberts, who was just named to the All-Pac-12 Team. “We took Stanford within five points [before] so we have really high expectations.”
The Women of Troy (18-12, 11-7 Pac-12) ended the regular season on a high note with two big road wins at Utah and Colorado and are looking to take that momentum into the Pac-12 tournament.
They will first be pairing with the worst team during the regular season in Arizona (5-24, 1-17), who only won one game in conference play.
In the two teams’ last meeting, USC jumped out to a huge lead, going up 42-23 early in the second half, before they had to withstand a late Wildcat rally. Led by the game-high 16 points of junior forward Alexyz Vaioletama, the Women of Troy were able to fend off the Wildcats to prevail on the road, 54-45.
USC’s size down low fares well in this matchup with Harberts and Vaioletama, as they out-rebounded the Wildcats 44-33 in their last meeting.
With a win, USC would advance to take on ASU, who bested the Women of Troy 94-86 in overtime earlier this season. In that meeting, both teams shot the ball exceptionally well, converting more than 50 percent of their attempts.
Before looking ahead to the Sun Devils, however, USC needs to take care of business against Arizona.
“We know we need to stay focused and we need to stay together, especially when things don’t go our way,” Harberts said.
It was a relatively successful regular season for the Women of Troy, who improved their overall win total by eight wins under the direction of first-year head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. Their 18 wins include 10 road victories, one coming against ranked California to go along with a season sweep of crosstown rival UCLA.
The Women of Troy also went through a stretch during which they seemed unbeatable, winning nine out of 10 games, with the lone loss being the aforementioned overtime loss to ASU.
“It’s all really about defense,” said junior guard Kiki Alofaituli, who averages 4.1 points per game.
Cooper-Dyke’s constant harping on defense throughout the season produced results, as two players — Vaiolatema and sophomore guard Brianna Barrett — earned All-Pac-12 Defensive Team Honorable Mentions. Junior guard Ariya Crook also made All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and guard Courtney Jaco was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention squad.
It has been an impressive inaugural campaign at USC for Cooper-Dyke, but the culmination of all of the team’s preparation and hard work will be tested in a tournament that is vital to USC’s drive toward March Madness.
Tip-off for USC vs. Arizona is set for 2:30 p.m. today and a win would land the Women of Troy in the same time slot against ASU on Friday.